Every decade has a team that has mesmerized the world with their immaculate football. The last decade has seen two World Cups, two European Championships and a handful of other tournaments and one team has been the brightest. They have etched their names in the history books in the most definitive way.
1 World Cup, 2 European Championships, FIFA team of the year for six years running, Laureus Team of the Year 2011, 1 Mediterranean Games, 3 time World Team of the Year and FIFA Fair Play award thrice in the last decade. The Spanish National Football team have left no stone unturned. In the process, they have conquered all there is and put on brilliant performances on the field. It can be safely said that they are the best team of the past decade (2004-2014).
After years of underachieving, being labelled as the ‘chokers’, Spain realized that they had their best chance in bringing glory to their nation with the kind of talent at their disposal. While they were enjoying loads of success with their respective clubs, success at international level eluded them for a prolonged period of time with the European Championship victory in 1964 being the only highlight.
They had to break free from the shackles they had found themselves in, realising that perhaps the only way they could was to imprint their style in football for ever. The crux of Spanish side comes from their very own La Liga. That only two players who played for the La Roja consistently in the previous edition of the World Cup weren’t plying their trade in the La Liga is a testament to the quality of their home grown talent.
The two players, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas, were not players who were groomed elsewhere either. Torres was initially part of the Athletico set up that included prolific Argentine striker Sergio Agūero among others and Fabregas is another illustrious product of the famed La Masia.
The World Cup is just around the corner and now, let us a look at what went right for Spain and what might happen this time around.
A seasoned campaigner himself, Vicente Del Bosque took on the managerial post and he would forever change the dynamics for the La Roja. Luis Aragones had led the foundation for what was to become one of the greatest teams in the history of football.
After leading Real Madrid to their most successful period in the modern era where they went on to win two UEFA Champions Leagues, two La Liga’s, a UEFA Super Cup, Del Bosque took on the challenge of managing a national team.
His term as the manager of the Spanish national side began in some style as he won his first ten matches in charge. He handed debuts to players such as Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Juan Mata who would later prove to be a decisive part of his team.
Spain weren’t the most dominant team when he started his term as the manager but he transformed them and that has meant disaster for all oppositions. He ensured that he made a team that could gel and were used to each other. The biggest move he made was to include a Sergio Busquets, an unknown entity and that paid rich dividends.
His aggressive style of management has reflected with the team’s performances and it can be said that Del Bosque is one of the greatest managers; he’s the only manager who has won both the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup. This speaks volumes of his ability and without him, Spain wouldn’t been a shade of what they are now.
Vicente Del Bosque as Spain manager
P | W |D| L | GF | GA | GD | Win% |
86 70 8 8 206 56 150 81.40
Note: All these stats are until when the writer wrote this article
Over the years, Spain have been heavily influenced by players from their own backyard. Players from traditional powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid have generally filled up the Spanish XI. Real Madrid stalwarts like Iker Casillas who was the captain for Real was also the captain for the national team.
He was joined by team mates Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos who forged a great partnership with Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. As Puyol’s career neared its end, in came his team mate Gerard Pique. For a while Ramos played as a right back while Pique was partnering his club captain and as soon as Puyol hung up his boots, Ramos moved to the middle.
Exponential midfielders Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta completed the jigsaw and with two prolific strikers in the form of David Villa and Fernando Torres who was in red hot form for a good part of the decade, Spain had nothing to worry about, at least about their team. Others like Santi Cazorla, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez ensured that the Spaniards had enough backup.
This World Cup too has seen new players fighting for the spot. Players such as Koke, Cesar Azpiliqueta, Juanfran and Atletico Madrid’s talismanic striker Diego Costa have given Del Bosque a lot to think about and I’m sure he would be happy about that.
Style of Play
Hungary did it back in the 40’s, Cryuff did it with the Dutch side back in the early 70’s, but none utilized ‘Total Football’ so successfully as the Spain side of the last decade. With intricate passing and swift movement across the playing field, they have been able to get past any defence. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Silva, Fernando Torres and David Villa would send shivers across even the best of the defenders around the world.
Heavily influenced by the tiki-taka style of the Blaugrana, Spain flourished with their brand of short, accurate passing. Xavi Hernandez was the lynchpin of the team. He was the person who glued the team together. He forged a great chemistry with club mate Andres Iniesta and they were a duo that any team would want to have. Iniesta’s creativity and eye for the spectacular coupled with Xavi’s ability to move the ball quickly through short distances ensured that players such as Villa and Torres, who are deadly inside the penalty box, get enough quality balls to put them into the opposition’s net.
While Xavi and Iniesta worked their magic up front, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets did their bit as they played the role of a holding midfielder to perfection. Xabi with his trademark long balls gave ample opportunities for the Spanish attackers to dazzle around the park.
Often accused of diving and faking tackles, Busquets is easily one of the world’s most underrated players. Silently playing his part, he rarely commits an error behind and that has been a major cause.
With a handful of Real Madrid players making the team too, counter attacking football was also a part of the team’s attacking philosophy. Ramos’ bursts on the flanks when he played on the right and Torres’ express pace added on to an already versatile Spanish team.
Attack wasn’t their only strength as they had a strong defence too. Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Joan Capdevilla were the backbones of a strong Spanish side which dominated possession from behind.
The World Cup win of 2010 would surely be on top of the list. Iniesta’s goal during the passage of play in the dying stages of the game was the only goal in that match but it was enough for the Spaniards to be crowned the World Champions. The only thing that may even come close would be their victory at the European Championships in 2012.
More than winning it, it was the way they played. Emphatically winning every match and virtually dismantling every team en route to the title, the Spaniards were miles ahead of the others. The ‘final’ against Italy was a one sided affair with the Spaniards demolishing Italy 4-0. It was Tiki-taka at its best, a virtual river of overflowing football which oozed class.
With so much success over the course of the past decade, it would be extremely difficult for the La Roja to reciprocate that kind of form again. Having said that though, with the wealth of talent they have at their disposal, it won’t be of any surprise if they successfully defend their World Cup in Brazil.